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Season 11 | Episode 4

Speed

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Illustration of person jumping over the hands of stopwatch (Daniel Horowitz)

We live our lives at human speed, we experience and interact with the world on a human time scale. But this hour, we put ourselves through the paces, peek inside a microsecond, and master the fastest thing in the universe.

Guests:

Mike Beller, Joshua Foer, Seth Horowitz, Eric Hunsader, John Mainstone, Thomas Peterffy, Larry Tabb, Lene Vestergaard Hau, Carl Zimmer and Andrew Zolli

Never Quite Now

We kick things off with one of the longest-running experiments in the world. As Joshua Foer explains, the Pitch Drop Experiment is so slow, you can watch it for hours (check out the live cam) and not detect the slightest movement. But that doesn't mean ...

Comments [28]

Million Dollar Microsecond

Picture the scrum of the stock exchange -- the flurry of buying and selling, the split-second decisions that make and break fortunes. Then take out all the humans and accelerate everything until you literally can't keep up. Jad visits the inhumanly fast world of modern-day, high-speed trading with NPR's

Comments [15]

Master of the Universe

As faster and faster technology schools us with its super speed, we’re left looking for something, anything, we can beat. Enter Lene Vestergaard Hau, who has found a way to harness the one thing we all thought -- by its very nature -- was unbeatable.

Comments [19]

Comments [63]

Sean Tobin

"Rory E. from Kingston Canada" is exactly right. Light is not being slowed at all. Radio Lab has most definitely not shed any light on this subject!

Jan. 01 2014 02:42 PM
Mariana Frandsen from Montreal

It's sad Professor John Mainstone didn't get to see the pitch drop. That was a great show, thanks for sharing.

Aug. 28 2013 01:06 PM
Troyboy...again.. from Albany, NY

The drop that was captured on video today occurred at Trinity College in Ireland, not at the University of Queensland in Australia (which was featured in the podcast.) Seems there is more than one experiment. Who knew.

Australia got scooped by those Buggers in Ireland!

Jul. 18 2013 09:31 PM
Troyboy from Albany, NY

So I listened to the podcast yesterday, and today I googled "pitch drop". Turns out it did. Earlier today. I missed it. Had to watch the video!

Fantastic episode.

Jul. 18 2013 08:57 PM
James from York, PA

So if you can store light in a bottle... Can't you make a light saver??

Jul. 16 2013 11:31 AM
Pasha...again... from Olympia

Got it:
The song at ~26:00 is "Ruckzuck" by Kraftwerk, which was one of the theme songs to the PBS show Newton's Apple.

Jun. 21 2013 01:02 AM
Pasha from Olympia, WA

TO THE FOLKS TRYING TO RECOGNIZE THE SONG AT THE ~26:00 mark: I BELIEVE it was the theme to Newton's Apple on PBS, but I'm not sure, I haven't been able to find that version of the theme on YouTube. Wish someone could confirm this :-)

Jun. 19 2013 06:25 PM
Dave Gerhart from Long Beach, CA

After hearing this program, I wrote a piece called Pitch Drop for Triangles and Electronic. Please check it out and let me know what you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHLNDlgfW6I

Thanks for the great podcast!
Dave

May. 23 2013 05:06 PM
John from North Carolina

Most unfortunate that you did not mention this very recent work on the amount of time it takes the brain to accumulate visual information sufficient to lead to an accurate motor output.

Stanford TR, Shankar S, Massoglia DP, Costello MG, Salinas E. (2010) Perceptual decision making in less than 30 milliseconds. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Mar;13(3):379-85. doi: 10.1038/nn.2485. Epub 2010 Jan 24.

May. 08 2013 03:38 PM
Beth from Wichita ks

Questions from a non-scientist here... So the photons in the linear beam begin to slow down the moment they hit the sodium..do they start to pile up like traffic, becoming more concentrated with photons and energy before/during its passage thru? Is there a limit to the amount the beam whose edges are contained by the cold and won't allow stray photons to escape, can handle before the photons slowly push/drill the beam across the space and the stored energy resulting from the pileup might act like a cannon firing the photons out of the other end of the sodium with enough energy to resume its normal speed? I feel like Penny from The Big Bang Theory here....

May. 08 2013 01:26 PM
Stan from Seattle

I wonder, is it possible that we are looking at those starts millions of light years away through clouds of really cold atoms? That would suddenly put them at arm's length...

May. 07 2013 09:21 PM
Brian from Indianapolis, IN

The story Million Dollar Microsecond was great. It is amzing what "lengths" business will go or remove to make money.

May. 06 2013 01:40 PM
Anthony from Boulder, CO

BEST RADIOLAB YET!

May. 05 2013 12:42 AM
Kan from Frisco,tx

OMG,storing light

Apr. 30 2013 09:55 PM
Rory E. from Kingston Canada

Hey quill. Its not the light in the medium being slowed its the rate at which the energy propagates that is slowed as it is absorbed and re-emitted by the atoms in the medium. In between atoms the photons travel at good-old light in a vacuum speeds. Its the variation in abortion/emittion speed and how often this happens that effects the rate of energy transfer.

Apr. 27 2013 08:03 PM
frost from Spokane Wa

It took me .02 seconds to think of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_finance
Now a days you must diversify... and have a D Wave One.

Apr. 20 2013 07:04 PM
quill from NYC!

Here's what I don't get. When the light is slowed in the cloud, when it pops out on the other side and resumes 186,000mps, where does its velocity come from???

Mar. 29 2013 02:49 PM
Dustin

Josh, it's Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi2kZtHk8mM

I'm not sure if it was in a movie, but Whitacre used it in his "virtual choir" experiment.

Mar. 11 2013 12:30 PM
Josh

That angelic sound at 49:50 sounds like it's from a movie, but I'm not sure which.. Anyone familiar? It's not long enough for me to shazam but I believe I've heard it before... Wish I knew!

Mar. 06 2013 05:09 PM
Ben

The last one woah. How does light speed back up after it exits the atom cloud? Wow.

Feb. 25 2013 12:20 PM
Sean from Canada

Dear Radiolab,

PLEASE name your podcast mp3s with the date in YYYY-MM-DD format so that they sort chronologically!

Feb. 22 2013 11:36 AM
John H from Houston

The cool story about slowing down light reminds me of the science fiction story "Light of Other Days" by Bob Shaw.

Feb. 20 2013 09:44 PM
Dan H from Red Bank, NJ

Jad missed the chance at making a great joke when interviewing Mike Beller. Jad should have asked: "So what it is like when your teen-age daughter misses her curfew by a few milliseconds? Is she -- like -- grounded for being SOOO late?"

Feb. 20 2013 07:19 PM
Ron Rosenthal from California

Of course there is a way to limit high-frequency trading and the problems it can cause. A tiny tax on each trade will nullify the fractions of a penny that are made on each trade. Isn't it worth it to stop this valueless activity?

Feb. 14 2013 05:31 PM
Zeke

The fascinating segment on slowing down light reminds me of the Alan Moore short story The Unbearableness of Being Light which won an Eisner years ago. In it the boy genius Jack B. Quick is thinking about the phenomenon of light and concludes that photons must be drunk. And of course they are moving at the speed of light, which is much too fast for Queerwater Creek! Together with the village's police officer, Jack arrests the photons. They are convicted and sentenced to move just at 30 mph from now on.

This leads to exactly the sorts of scenarios Jad and Robert imagine with their cycling faster than light idea. People arrive at their destinations long before they can be seen to do so, multiple images of things get stacked up, large areas of town are turned into lightless voids. Check it out, it's a very quick and amusing read. First published in Moore's Tomorrow Stories.

Feb. 14 2013 12:42 AM
Dave Tirado from New Jersey

Relax guys, I remembered the theme music. It was from Newtons Apple. IN fact I even found a link for it on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIu2Fr2nIhI&feature=related

Feb. 13 2013 10:14 PM
Don Hannah from Australia

As a follow on from your first segment about the time lag in your brain as information shoots around. Benjamin Libets book "Mind Time" talks about how you brain lies to your mind about that time lag so that you always feel as though you are in the present, even though you are living in the past.

Feb. 13 2013 05:25 PM
Sean King from UK

Does Lene's sodium pool heat up as she fires light into it ?

Feb. 13 2013 04:56 PM
Bret from Lincoln, NE

I am racking my brain to remember where I've heard the music around 26:25! I see I'm not the only one. Could you let us know the track name, or help me figure out which 80s kids show associated with it? It had to be something on PBS... 3-2-1 Contact, or Square One, or something. Aaahhh! I can't place it...

Feb. 13 2013 03:18 PM
Mike Fun

well, starts at 43:34

Feb. 13 2013 11:58 AM
Mike Fun

That's the instrumental version of Raymond Scott's "lightworks" at 44:20.

Feb. 13 2013 11:52 AM
Logan from Detroit

Lol did you hear the Busta Ryhmes instrumental at 20:30?

Good episode :)

Feb. 12 2013 12:04 PM

Constructive criticism time, team Radiolab: everybody loves your music choices, so you should be publishing a track list along with each episode.

Feb. 12 2013 09:01 AM
Peter Karas from Ontario

This is driving me crazy - what's the name of the song at the end of the Kraft segment, at 26:57 or so.....
It was on a kids TV show in the eighties, (played during the credits maybe) - it's so familiar!

Also, great show - can't wait to hear it every week!

Feb. 12 2013 08:33 AM
Mike from San Francisco

I am in agony trying to figure out the name of the music in the background of the section about the algorithms buying Kraft at 22:53 (in the full episode).

Shazam can't find it, I will donate 5 bucks in the name of the person who can ID it for me.

Feb. 12 2013 02:36 AM
John from Colorado

Wonderful, fantastic show! One question, though: with reference to a comment made at 36:57 (correct me if I'm wrong please), isn't 10 microseconds one hundred times faster than a millisecond instead of ten times faster as was stated in the show? I just want to make I'm getting my orders of magnitude prefixes correct.

Thanks for this, and all of the other wonderful shows!

Feb. 11 2013 10:12 PM
Christopher Dillon from Brooklyn

Quick question. If light as the constant has all of its energy directed toward motion through space (traveling at the maximum speed possible in theory) and therefore none of its energy directed toward movement through the fourth dimension of time...what happens to those photons when their motion through space stops? Do they begin moving forward in the fourth dimension of time? Do they age?

Feb. 11 2013 01:43 PM
Giovanni from NY NY

This episode BLEW ME AWAY!!

Now, my knowledge is extremely limited, and my capacity to grasp all these things debatable, but I thought the speed of light was a constant with fundamental significance to Relativity. So how does it affect that? And if you can slow down light and capture it, then the obvious question is: can you fling it and make it go faster?

Feb. 11 2013 12:35 PM

What is the name of the accordion track that begins at 33:56, and who is the musician? I want to hear the entire track so badly and I cannot get Shazam to recognize it!

Feb. 11 2013 12:12 AM
Jose from Miami, Fl

Great inspiration..! Like we say in spanish Maravilloso..!!!

Feb. 09 2013 10:41 AM
Simon from Poland

Absolutely fantastic podcast, definitely one of my favourites.

Feb. 08 2013 06:38 PM
Mike K from Connecticut

I enjoyed this podcast very much, but please tell me your tongue was firmly in your cheek when you spoke about capturing the light surrounding President Obama for future generations.

Feb. 08 2013 11:47 AM
kk from just woke up

awesome, AWESOME!
i throe laughing

Feb. 08 2013 12:59 AM
Nate Pierce from Tucson

Trapping light... doesn't that violate the laws of thermodynamics?

Feb. 07 2013 10:18 PM
karip from Grand Rapids, MI

I love the part where Lena says, "that's right, I am a curious lady."

Feb. 07 2013 09:02 PM
Mark Boyd from Bay Village Ohio

That being said, I agree with other posters - this was an AMAZING episode! I actually don't have any episodes I don't like - just ones that are better than others. I actually felt kinda guilty after I listened to it because I haven't donated in a while!

Everyone, whip out your wallets QUICK!

When I fantasize about winning the lottery (which I never play), I imagine giving millions of dollars to Radiolab. Could not even fathom what they could do with virtually unlimited resources.

I'm going to be a high school teacher someday, and I can't wait to use Radiolab for discussions in class!

Feb. 07 2013 08:52 PM
Mark Boyd from Bay Village, Ohio

Surprised no one brought up the idea of future quantum entangled "radios" which would make cabling between the stock exchanges obsolete!

Also, I think that missing from the discussion of being "in the moment" is the question of who exactly are you when you are "in the moment" or, rather, who is it that can be or not be "in the moment" - as if there's some kind of "true" moment outside of us from which we're disconnected.

Feb. 07 2013 08:47 PM
Fergus from Scotland

I fell in love with the outtro music to the high-speed trading segment in the middle. (42:30 to 43:30)
Does anybody recognise it, or can you provide a track listing?
Thanks!

Feb. 07 2013 04:19 PM
JonathanL

The download through the iTunes app came through okay, but the 'cast itself is glitched. It cuts around, repeats itself, etc. throughout. No problems with other 'casts on my iPhone.

Feb. 07 2013 04:17 PM
Britt

Given that Lena can store light and turn it on and off, does that mean she has created an entirely sustainable light source that could replace light bulbs and the need for electricity for light? How bright and far reaching is this light source? Of because it is frozen, can it not glow outside of the cloud?

Also, what else can these clouds replicate? Can they also replicate matter? Could you put a leaf, for example, into the cloud, let it drift out, and then "turn on" the leaf like an after image? It honestly reminds me of photography. I want to see it in person..!

Feb. 07 2013 03:03 PM
Derrik from West Chicago, Illinois

I hhave so many questions about the light in the last ten minutes! Like how much light could be stored, and if light carries information like images. like if you captured like that relected off an object??

Feb. 07 2013 12:27 PM
Rocky

I wonder if Lene's research could lead to ACTUAL LIGHT SABERS! CMON, THINK ABOUT IT! :-)

Feb. 07 2013 09:41 AM
Jim Gonzales

I really liked this episode. I felt you guys were in a lull there for a bit.

Feb. 06 2013 02:37 PM

Hi John,

Lene got her sodium atoms down to around a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

Best,
Soren.

Feb. 06 2013 01:46 PM
Brenna

Hey everybody, sorry about the downloading slowness last night -- we're looking into what might have caused it. In the meantime, everything seems to be working okay now on our end. If you're still having trouble, could you shoot us an email at radiolab@wnyc.org to let us know? The more info you can give us, the better:
* Are you having trouble downloading from our site, or through iTunes or our mobile app?
* If you're on our site, what browser (and version) are you using?
* If you're using our app, are you connected to wifi?
Thanks!

Feb. 06 2013 01:34 PM
Ryan Morrow from Boise, ID

Has anyone ever heard of float therapy? http://www.float-therapy.com/

This is the attempt to eliminate senses to give you the sensation that you are floating and all that you are concentrating on is your thoughts. To me, it is the closest you can be to "being in the moment." Thoughts?

Feb. 06 2013 01:30 PM
christopher from Los Angeles

Haha, came here to make the same comment as everyone else. "Speed" is not so much.

Feb. 06 2013 01:19 PM
John from St. Louis

If cold is the lack of movement within atoms, how close is this process to absolute zero?

Feb. 06 2013 12:44 PM
Associate from Amsterdam

The podcast on 'Speed' is DLing at an incredibly slow pace. Oh, the irony:)

Feb. 06 2013 01:12 AM
Mike from Dallas

DL from website and android app not working fellas.

Feb. 06 2013 12:21 AM
jerry

Keep the podcasts coming guys!! Love em nothing better than radiolab! radio now adays is a joke! Wish there were more shows out there like NPR n u guys!

Greetings from Miami Florida!!

Feb. 05 2013 11:48 PM

Having downloading troubles as well. DLing now but it's v...e.....r....y s......l.......o.........w

Feb. 05 2013 11:10 PM
Mark LaPierre from Internet

Hey Dudes/Dudets,

Your Speed .mp3 file does not download. Do you think you can fix that?

Feb. 05 2013 09:58 PM

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